Returning Home from a Disaster Assignment
As a disaster worker, you are part of a family of responders working toward a common goal, and may feel:
- Stimulated by working in a disaster area;
- Pride at easing the suffering of victims; and
- Satisfaction in your ability to help.
You will have had an intense experience, which may begin to wear heavily on you when you return to your family and friends.
You may not rest enough while working in a disaster area. When you return home you will likely feel exhausted and it may take days for you to catch-up on sleep. Your family, friends and employer need to understand that you require time to adjust before resuming your normal activities.
While responding to a disaster situation you will have provided a great amount of assistance in a short period of time. Once you return home, you may need to give yourself time to return to the relaxed pace of your family and friends.
You may want to talk to your family and friends about your experiences, and they will be eager to tell you about theirs. What you were doing may seem much more exciting and significant, but remember that their experiences are as important to them as yours are to you.
You may be disappointed to find other people have no interest in hearing about your experiences, or that your reunion with your family and friends does not meet your expectations. You may expect they will be happy to have you home and be surprised and disappointed if they express anger that you were gone, rather than joy to have you back. It is important to understand that everyone deals with change differently, and it takes time to get back into routine.
You may have feelings or mood swings that surprise or even frighten you, which is to be expected after returning from a disaster response. If you can begin to anticipate your moods, and where the feelings are coming from, you can begin to manage them. When you have time to put your disaster work into perspective, your mood should improve. If you feel you need extra help dealing with your emotions you can speak with a loved one or health professional, or contact your Emergency Social Services Director to help find the appropriate tools to assist you.
You may feel your family's and friends' problems are trivial compared to those of the victims you just left, and their complaints may make you angry. Try to remember they don’t share your experience and that their problems are important to them.
You may be reminded of a victim by the actions or characteristics of a family member or friend, and you may react to that memory in surprising ways. Try to help your family and friends understand the reasons for your response.
You may daydream about returning to the disaster or you may wish to be sent to a new one. Try to remember how important you are to your family and friends.
You may find it hard to explain to your children why you were away. Try not to frighten them with stories about what you have seen and done. Tell them about the disaster, and involve them in preparedness efforts for your family. This will help them feel as if they are part of what you have been doing and reduce their fears about similar disasters at home.
If you have unusual reactions that last for extended periods, contact your Emergency Social Services Director and ask for the opportunity to talk about your feelings with an experienced emergency social services worker or 310 - Mental Health: Call 310-6789 (no area code needed) toll-free anywhere in B.C. to access emotional support, information and resources specific to mental health and substance use issues. Available 24 hours a day.